My Apprenticeship in Fiction
The most foolish thing a writer can do, apparently, is send an unfinished manuscript to a publisher or an agent. But that’s never stopped me. The first time was after spending several years working on a book that was clearly going nowhere. I was losing faith and the doubts were taking hold. Maybe it was time to cut my losses. Why waste any more time writing in vain? I desperately needed someone to heroically step out of a shampoo advert, look me in the eye and say, ‘Because you’re worth it…’ Or failing that, a few kind words of encouragement from an agent, a brief rejection letter telling me to persevere and hinting at where I might be going wrong.
Despite the postal terror I inflicted on the UK’s leading literary agencies, I got none of the above and it’s obvious why. Long gone are the times when an editor or agent replies to a writer with critical feedback on a shoddy first draft. These days you’ll be lucky to get anyone to even read your work, so it has to be a well-polished final draft long before your impatient fingers reach for the proverbial Jiffy bag.
I wasn’t frustrated at the rejections as such – I was well aware that my writing wasn’t ready for publication. It was more the fact that I had come to a dead end; I needed some professional feedback in order to move on and the publishing industry was a closed shop. The only options open to me were very costly and I was very poor. I wasn’t in a position to fork out thousand of pounds on a useless masters degree, and I was reluctant to pay for a critique from an editorial agency. There’s a whole industry profiting from the misplaced hopes of aspiring writers who are strung along for all they can afford. I couldn’t think of anything worse.
With its ground-breaking Apprenticeships scheme, though, Adventures in Fiction stood out among the crowd of editorial and literacy consultancies. Their year-long mentoring programme, funded by the Arts Council, offered first-time novelists the personal input of industry experts absolutely free. I was lucky enough to be chosen from an open competition attracting hundreds of candidates in the first year of the Apprenticeships. After months of sometimes brutally honest editorial feedback, my novel began to make progress in leaps and bounds. I began to look at my work with fresh eyes and take a completely new approach to writing. By the end of the programme, my 80,000-word manuscript had been reduced to a mere 20,000. I had finally started to cut the crap.
It’s a shame that Arts Council funding is being slashed, especially for those at the early stages of their writing career. But I’m pleased to see that the Apprenticeships scheme is currently entering it’s third year and still offering one free bursary award. I can’t help feeling indebted to Adventures in Fiction now, over a year later, even as I embark on the daunting task of making up that massive word deficit in my efforts to finish the novel.
Andrew Theophilou (author from Seven Days)
Interview taken from www.legendpress.co.uk